The Supreme Court on Wednesday dashed the hopes of Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government to retain power in Maharashtra by refusing to stay a floor test called for by Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on June 30 on a request made by Leader of Opposition and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis.
This second consecutive body blow the Supreme Court dealt the beleaguered Thackeray government in as many days proved too much for the ruling coalition. Chief Minister Thackeray announced his resignation within minutes of the Supreme Court order, negating the need for a trust vote which was otherwise scheduled for 11 a.m. on Thursday.
On June 27, a Vacation Bench of Justices Surya Kant and J.B. Pardiwala virtually froze Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal’s power to proceed with the disqualification of Shiv Sena dissident MLAs led by Eknath Shinde for defection. The dissidents were given extra time till July 12 to respond to the charges.
Wednesday saw the court agree with Governor Koshyari and the dissident MLAs that delaying the floor test would further damage democracy. Holding a floor test in Maharashtra was the sure remedy against horse-trading. Delay of trust vote was the very antithesis of democracy.
“We are not staying the floor test,” Justice Kant briefly conveyed the Bench’s final order to the warring Shiv Sena factions at 9 p.m. after a four-hour marathon hearing.
During the hearing, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Governor Koshyari, said the “who is the majority in the House is not determined in Raj Bhavan but on the floor of the Assembly where everybody can see”.
The court session began with senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, for the Thackeray camp, urging the court to either stay the floor test or unshackle the Deputy Speaker so that he could go ahead with the disqualification proceedings against 16 of a total 39 dissident MLAs.
Mr. Singhvi then said Governor Koshyari showed “undue haste” by calling a floor test when the question of disqualification was pending in the court.
“Floor test was called on June 28 at supersonic speed… Holding a floor test before determining the question of disqualification of the rebels is like plunging into a pool without determining the size of the pool. It is like putting the cart before the horse. The first thing to do in this whole political crisis is to determine who has committed the constitutional sin of defection… The Governor cannot short-circuit the Supreme Court’s proceedings or the Deputy Speaker’s authority to adjudicate disqualification proceedings… The floor test cannot make these proceedings infructuous,” Mr. Singhvi submitted.
Justice Kant, speaking for the Bench, observed that the court had intervened on June 27 because it was an “extraordinary situation” in which the Speaker himself was facing action for removal from office.
Mr. Singhvi said the rebel MLAs, facing action for defection, “no longer represent the will of the people”. They should not be allowed to vote.
But Justice Kant asked whether a government, knowing it has lost its majority, could be allowed to use the Speaker to issue disqualification notices “en masse”.
“When the Speaker himself is under a cloud, should we go ahead and presume that the MLAs are already deemed to have been disqualified?” the judge asked.
Senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, for the Shinde camp, declared “we are the Shiv Sena”. They said they have 39 Sena MLAs out of a total 55. “The Thackeray faction is a hopeless minority within the party itself,” Mr. Kaul submitted.
He said a pending petition in the Supreme Court questioning the disqualification proceedings cannot stay the authority and discretion of the Governor to call for a floor test.
“The reluctance of the Chief Minister to face the floor test prima facie shows he has lost the majority,” Mr. Kaul argued.
Senior advocate Maninder Singh, also for the dissident camp, said the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers was not necessary for the Governor to call for a floor test.